At today’s Annual Meeting session on “Creating the Healthiest Nation Through Environmental Health: A Federal Partner Perspective,” attendees explored how three federal agencies work with other federal, state and local partners to identify environmental injustices and advance the science necessary to protect vulnerable communities.

Moderator Katherine Robb, APHA’s senior program manager for environmental health, first gave an overview of the importance of environmental health.

“As a fundamental component of a comprehensive public health system,” Robb noted, “environmental health works to advance policies and programs to reduce chemical and other environmental exposures in air, water, soil and food to protect residents and provide communities with healthier environments.”

Among the presenters was Sharunda Buchanan, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Environmental Health, who introduced the agency’s new $10 million multi-site study to examine a growing environmental health concern — polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAs, in our water supply.

“The CDC elevates emerging environmental health priorities with a focus on health equity and environmental justice,” she told attendees.

John Balbus, with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, also spoke about how his agency is working to translate research into health equity.

“Science is a tool for the people,” he said. “We need to develop the capacity of communities to participate in research for a holistic approach. And we need to make real-world connections with that research to create interventions to address the underlying drivers of health disparities.”

Balbus described this empowering, community-engaged research and translation as “citizen science” and said it needs to take into account the social determinants of health as well as “cumulative stressors” such as poverty, education and employment. He outlined NIEHS programs responsible for research, evaluation, training and education, with a focus on vulnerable populations.

Bruce Rodan, with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, spoke about the teamwork needed at all levels of government to maintain core public health functions.

“States implement federal safe drinking water standards, and that filters down to the local level,” he said. “We all have to do our part because problems we face today, like water and air pollution, are forgotten not gone.”

Rodan provided a list of available EPA “citizen science tools,” such as geospacial mapping tools, that address environmental health risks, environmental injustice and health inequity. Joel Ervice, with the Regional Asthma Management and Prevention in Oakland, California, also introduced an environmental health tool — this one is designed to help reduce the rates of asthma and target the social and environmental inequities that contribute to its high rates among low-income communities and communities of color.

“This is not go-it-alone work,” Ervice said. “Partnerships increase patient access to sustainable, in-home interventions for asthma that work and have a high rate of return on investment.”

He also introduced a report his agency released that offers lessons learned in five different states.

“Partnerships with federal and state agencies, community programs, managed care organizations, health advocates and medical providers are the key to creating health equity,” he said.